Aaron Levisohn and Diane Gromala designed an interactive artwork titled Taro(t)ception to explore embodied interactive art, focusing particularly on the role of interoception and the continually changing confluences of mind, body and world.

Standing in front of Taro(t)ception


Taro(t)ception focuses on several aspects of interoception, or inner awareness, including proprioception. Proprioception refers to the way we experience our bodies in space. It relays ever-changing information about the position and movement of our body. For example, proprioception is what enables us to touch our noses with our hands while we have our eyes shut. Because our proprioceptive sense is so deeply woven into our everyday experience it generally remains in the background of our conscious awareness. However, in a figure-ground kind of relationship, we can be made aware of proprioceptive processes when, for example, we experience illnesses, such as vertigo or labyrnthitis, or technologically-mediated “simsickness.” Taro(t)ception uses perceptual illusions to intentionally disrupt our everyday experience of proprioception in order to focus attention on the act of bodily movement and its “bound” relations to vision and tactility, interpretation and meaning-making. This process produces an embodied effect tied to ancient notions of aesthetics, narrative and interaction. In the context of the artwork these processes are tightly related to specific Tarot Cards and other artifacts reflecting the history of divination. The remainder of the paper describes Taro(t)ception in detail and reviews the theories and concepts underlie its functioning.

Taro(t)ception has proven to elicit embodied, subjective experiences that interactors are able to register to varying degrees. One commonly reported experience is the conscious awareness of interoceptive sensations, particularly that of proprioception. Interactors have remarked that their experiences in Taro(t)ception recall their prior experiences with immersive virtual reality (VR) and other artworks that engage with movement or perception, such as David Rokeby’s Very Nervous System [24]. Taro(t)ception employs augmented reality (AR) technology, which incorporates an interactor’s physical actions and senses directly in relation to a highly subjective, multiply interpretive, interactive, partially self-constructed narratives. As with many kinds of interactive narrative, a non-stable frisson arises between the intention of the authors and the multiple ways interactors co-create a narrative.

To engage with Taro(t)ception, interactors look into a six-foot high box, through what appears to be a transparent window, but is actually an LCD screen, located just above elbow height. Interactors initially see an “objective,” perspectively “correct” view of objects that lie under the “window”. Interactors manipulate these objects — fortune-telling artifacts from various world cultures — with one or both hands. What they then see in the “window” are their hands as they manipulate and examine the objects. But the window is not “transparent” per se: it displays what the interactors “should” see overlaid with translucent images in registration with their hands. Additionally, perceptually distortions are displayed according to the distinctive aspects of particular objects. Needless to say, our contemporary cultural context changes our relation to and interpretation of these artifacts; however, rather than dismissing them out of hand as remnants of superstitious beliefs, we conceptualize them as “touchstones” — ways to recall systems of belief and divination practices that persist in our own time, perhaps because they speak to on-going human desires to make meaning, and to anticipate the future.

The artifacts in Taro(t)ception recall ancient divination practices that involved a crystal ball, a magnifying glass, as well as body parts of animals, from inscribed shoulder blade bones to various organs and entrails. The Tarot Cards in Taro(t)ception, however, are a mainfocus, as users choose which cards they will place in the box. Here, we reappropriate the visually rich, symbolic nature of Tarot Cards, and the multiple ways in which interactors interpret them in contemporary contexts. From the realm of Visual Culture Studies, we offer a technologically-mediated, perceptually provocative approach to the multiplicity of ways we ascribe meaning to visual symbols. In this process, the interaction functions to shift attention to a deeper sense of embodied self-awareness. Moreover, since our approach grows out of the notion of embodiment from existentialist phenomenology and consciousness studies, we do not focus on the visual at the exclusion of other senses, but understand interoceptive and exteroceptive senses to work in recombinant syntheses, a process referred to as “binding” [4,28]. Thus the tangible interactions combine with real-time, perceptual illusions to provoke awareness of proprioception in the process of divinatory interpretations of Tarot symbols.

Interactors are able to explore the array of divinatory artifacts in more detail using an antique magnifying glass that can be accessed through the open front of the box. Instead of seeing enlarged views of the objects, however, the glass acts as a green-screen on which culturally relevant and historically poignant video clips are displayed. Each of the major Arcanum Tarot cards thus trigger a mélange of images that symbolically relate to radically diverse aspects of the “subject” of each Tarot card. As an example, the Tower card initiates video clips that portray literal images of the Twin Towers in 9/11, Pruitt Iago imploding, the Hindenburg crashing into its landing tower, and the unfinished Tower of Babel. These are interspersed with images that are more symbolic of sudden, disruptive change, such as recent and historical political revolutions, economic depressions, famines, iconic images of scientific paradigm shifts, natural and human-made disasters and plagues, divorces and numerous kinds of dissolutions, death, birth and initiation rites, ideological clashes, and so on.

The location of the magnifying glass along with the specific tarot cards placed inside the box co-vary the visual rhetoric, or styles, and semantics of the video footage displayed to the interactor. As the interactor explores the artifacts, visual effects and perceptual illusions are programmed to alter the entire scene – including the interactor’s own hands. The perceptual illusions are achieved by continually time-shifting the video and calling up video effects such as ghosting trails. These create a disjuncture between what the interactors see and what they emotionally and physically “feel.” These ruptures, we believe, temporarily disturb or shock us out of our habituated primacy of vision and/or the relations among vision, proprioception, tactility, and balance. Additionally, the use of multiple video layers creates an unfamiliar temporal-spatial world with shifting frames of reference that further destabilizes the interactor’s mind-body-world relationships. The result of this often produces a heightened awareness of the mind-body relations of interactive experience, or as some interactors has described it, an “immersive trance.”

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